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HOWARD v. HEADLY

October 25, 1999

CARTER HOWARD, 95-A-1559, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FRANK HEADLY, SUPERINTENDENT; CORRECTION OFFICER DANIEL CRUM; KAY FIEGI-BOCK, SENIOR CHAIRPERSON OF THE PROGRAM COMMITTEE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Carter Howard ("Howard"), an inmate in a New York State correctional facility, brings this civil rights action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985, alleging that prison officials who required him to work beyond his physical capabilities violated his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He seeks damages and injunctive relief. Defendants Frank Headly ("Headly"), Daniel Crum ("Crum"), and Kay Fiegl-Bock ("Fiegl-Bock") are employees of the New York State Department of Corrections ("DOC"). They move pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, and on qualified immunity grounds. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion.

BACKGROUND

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court's task is "`necessarily a limited one.'" Hamilton Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, Inc. v. Hamilton College, 128 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974)). "[I]n ruling on [the] defendant[s'] motion, the court must accept as true all the factual allegations in the complaint and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Id. at 63. In addition, because Howard is a pro se plaintiff, his pleadings must be read liberally. See Gomez v. USAA Fed. Savings Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 795 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972). The Court should grant such a motion only if, after viewing the plaintiff's allegations in the most favorable light, it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. See Harris v. City of New York, 186 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir. 1999).

Accordingly, the following facts are drawn from Howard's complaint, and are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion: In 1997, Howard suffered back injuries while he was incarcerated in the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility ("Arthur Kill"), operated by DOC in Staten Island, New York. According to his doctor, Howard's resulting back condition, including sciatica, prevented him from doing strenuous work. In January 1998, Howard was assigned by the program committee, of which Fiegi-Bock was the chairperson, to serve as a sanitation worker in the prison. Howard told Fiegl-Bock of his medical condition, and she advised him that she would change his assignment if he provided the committee with medical documentation.

On January 12, 1998, Howard began his assignment, which was supervised by Crum, a correctional officer. The following day, Howard obtained a doctor's not indicating that he had a medical restriction which limited him to performing light duty tasks. He gave Crum a copy of the note, but Crum required Howard to continue working. While on sanitation duty, he was "forced to perform strenuous work tasks every day in pain and agony." Complaint, Facts, ¶ 5. This work aggravated Howard's medical conditions, made it "very painful for him to walk," and "caused pain in his left arm." Complaint, Exhibit C. Howard complained about the assignment and working conditions to the Arthur Kill grievance committee, which considered inmates' complaints about prison conditions. The grievance committee recommended that he appear before the program committee for reassignment. The complaint does not state whether this appearance occurred, but, in any event, his work assignment was not changed.

On February 5, 1998, Howard injured his neck, right hand and left shoulder, and reinjured his back while working on the sanitation crew. He was sent to the hospital, and ordered by his doctor to use a sling and to take two weeks bed rest. On February 6, 1998, February 20, 1998, and March 23, 1998, Howard's doctor issued him "no-work" medical restrictions. Although Howard presented these restrictions to Crum and Fiegl-Bock, they required him to continue in the sanitation program. Crum told him that he was "faking" and that he "didn't want to hear it" when Howard told him about his medical restrictions. Complaint, ¶ IV, 1, Facts, ¶ 5. On various days, Howard did not appear for sanitation duty because he did not wish to perform the painful work.

In mid-March 1998, Crum issued Howard several misbehavior reports related to his failure to participate in the work program, many of which were later dismissed by a hearing officer who determined that Howard was not required to perform the sanitation work because of his medical restrictions. On March 27, 1998, Howard filed with the DOC Inspector General a complaint about his work assignment and misbehavior reports.

That same day, Crum issued Howard another misbehavior notice, which was endorsed by Fiegl-Bock. Howard alleges that Crum and Fiegl-Bock issued the misbehavior notices in retaliation for his complaints to them, the grievance committee, and the Inspector General. According to Howard, Headly — the Arthur Kill Superintendent — failed "to remedy an egregious wrong after learning of the violations and unlawful conduct of his subordinates." Complaint, ¶ IV-A, 3.

At some point, Howard also submitted to the Arthur Kill grievance committee a grievance against Crum alleging retaliation and harassment based on the same facts alleged in the present complaint. At the time the complaint was filed, this grievance was still pending. Howard does not indicate whether he filed grievances against Fiegl-Bock or Headly.

The defendants move to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. However, in their memorandum of law, they address only the Eighth Amendment claims, and not the claims based on their alleged retaliation against Howard, claiming that: 1) the complaint alleges insufficient facts to set forth a violation of Howard's Eighth Amendment constitutional rights with regard to his work assignments; 2) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity with regard to the Eighth Amendment claim; and 3) the complaint fails to allege that Headly was personally involved in the alleged violations. Accordingly, the retaliation claim will not be considered a part of this motion.

DISCUSSION

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Howard's complaint describes his efforts to avail himself of the grievance procedures which were available at Arthur Kill and through state-wide DOC offices, such as the Office of the Inspector General. Howard does not, however, describe the remedies available to him, or whether he pursued those remedies to their full extent. The presence in the complaint of issues regarding administrative exhaustion are indicia of circumstances that raise concerns about the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Because federal courts are under an independent obligation to examine their own jurisdiction, see FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231, 110 S.Ct. 596, 107 L.Ed.2d 603 (1990), the Court must sua sponte explore allegations that relate to its subject matter jurisdiction, see ...


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